Cornbread dressing (similar to cornbread stuffing but made outside the bird) is a perfect addition to your holiday meal. A freshly baked batch of cornbread is cut into cubes, dried, then tossed with sausage, vegetables, cranberries, apples, and pecans for a hearty side dish.
This Southern cornbread dressing recipe is a flavorful must-have side dish for Thanksgiving dinner or other holiday gatherings. A simple cornbread batter is prepared and baked to create the base. The texture is much lighter than conventional store-bought mushy stuffings.
Typically day-old cornbread is used from leftovers, but I’ll show you an easy baking trick to skip the wait. The golden cake is cut into small cubes then toasted to quickly dry out the crumb. To elevate the flavor, a combination of savory and sweet fruits, vegetables, herbs, and nuts are added.
Difference between stuffing and dressing
A stuffing is commonly added inside raw turkey or poultry before roasting. A dressing is often prepared in a separate pan then served on the side of the meat. However, oftentimes these terms are used interchangeably, it varies by region.
For example, in the Southern United States, it’s typically called dressing whereas in the North and Pacific Northwest it’s called stuffing. They both typically contain a starch component like bread and can be mixed with other cooked meats like sausage, or even oysters, and vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions.
Making homemade cornbread
I modified my jalapeno cheddar cornbread recipe to use as the base. It’s a simple combination of cornmeal, flour, baking powder, egg, milk, vegetable oil, and honey. It has more of a savory flavor with just a hint of sweetness.
For this recipe, I prefer to use chunks instead of crumbles as it adds more texture to the dressing. This technique also prevents the cornbread from dissolving and getting mushy once combined with meat.
A quick way to dry out the bread
Cornbread is a staple in Southern cuisine and leftovers make it perfect for use in other recipes. By cutting the cornbread into ¾-inch cubes and baking until crisp around the edges helps to quickly stale or dry it out, even when made fresh the same day.
I use this technique when I make baked french toast casserole. Driving off as much moisture from the cakey cubes helps with better absorption of chicken stock when making the dressing.
Cornbread alone can be pretty bland. Onions, celery, and garlic are key aromatic components in any stuffing or dressing. To add seasonal holiday flavors that complement the turkey, ingredients like cranberries, apples, pecans, Italian sausage, sage, thyme, and rosemary create an elegant mix.
Baking ensures that the eggs help coagulate and bind the bread together. To make sure that all of the harmful bacteria are destroyed, the dressing should reach a minimum of 144°F (62ºC). Bake uncovered for the first 20 minutes to dry the surface and create a nice crust, then loosely cover to finish and prevent charring on top.
Make-ahead and reheating
- The cornbread can be made 3 days in advance.
- The cornbread cubes can be toasted 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container.
- The sausage, vegetables, and fruit can be cooked 2 days ahead of time, then mixed with the other ingredients.
- Everything can be assembled 2 days ahead of time, then baked as per instructions.
- If already baked, the dressing can be reheated, loosely covered in a 325ºF (163ºF) oven until warmed through, about 45 to 60 minutes.
- Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
I serve this with
Why add stock or broth to the dressing
Moistening the mixture with chicken broth or stock helps the starches in the bread lightly stick together, while adding extra flavor. It’s good to allow the flour in the bread to soak up the liquid for 5 minutes before baking. Add just enough to help with binding, but not too much that the dish is soggy.
- 1 cup (140 g) yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup (142 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (11 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
- ⅓ cup (79 ml) vegetable oil
- ¼ cup (60 ml) honey, or granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
- 1 pound (454 g) mild Italian sausage, casing removed
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
- 1 cup (115 g) diced red onion, ¼-inch dice
- 1 cup (142 g) diced celery, ¼-inch dice
- 1 cup (118 g) diced Fuji apple, ¼-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons (3 g) chopped sage
- 2 teaspoon (3 g) chopped rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- ½ cup (60 g) dried cranberries
- ½ cup (60 g) pecan halves, roughly chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups (480 ml) unsalted chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Adjust the oven rack to the center position. Preheat to 400ºF (204ºC).
- Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan with vegetable oil.
- In a medium bowl whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a separate medium bowl whisk together egg, milk, vegetable oil, and honey until the sweetener is completely dissolved.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients together until no more lumps remain.
- Pour the cornbread batter in the baking pan. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 22 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Allow the cornbread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and transfer to a cooling rack.
- Cool until it can be easily handled, about 10 to 15 minutes. It’s okay if the bread is still warm.
- Slice into ¾-inch cubes and then spread in a single layer on a large sheet pan. There should be about 9 cups of cubes.
- Toast the cubes in the oven until the edges are dry and crisp, about 30 to 35 minutes, gently stirring every 10 minutes.
- Allow to completely cool on the sheet pan while the other ingredients are prepared.
- Heat a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
- Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, once hot add the sausage.
- Brown the sausage, breaking into smaller pieces and cook until no longer pink, about 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer meat to a large bowl.
- Melt the butter in the pan, then add in the onions, celery, and apples. Saute until the vegetables and apples are tender, 7 to 8 minutes.
- Add garlic, saute until fragrant, 30 seconds.
- Add parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, stir and cook for 30 seconds.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl with the sausage.
- Stir in the cranberries and chopped pecans.
- Gently stir in the toasted cornbread cubes.
- In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, chicken stock, salt, and pepper.
- Pour the liquid evenly over the bread, gently stir to combine. Allow to soak for 5 minutes.
- Grease a 9x13-inch pan with vegetable oil.
- Evenly spread the cornbread mixture into the pan. Sprinkle more cranberries and chopped pecans on top if desired.
- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
- Loosely cover and bake until the internal temperature reaches 144ºF (62ºC), about 10 to 20 minutes. If desired, remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes to crisp the surface.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour. I recommend Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour.